Body memory

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Body memory is the belief that the body itself is capable of storing memories, as opposed to only the brain. This is used to explain having memories for events where the brain was not in a position to store memories and is sometimes a catalyst for repressed memories recovery. These memories are often characterised with phantom pain in a part or parts of the body — the body appearing to remember the past trauma.


The symptons for the syndrome are:

  1. Recurrent behaviour patterns, flashbacks, emotional responses, pain, or other sensations, generally associated with certain triggers (events, people, colours, sounds, skin pressure, etc).
  2. Recurrent emotional responses can be positive or negative. For example, triggers can bring back the physical response of the skin pressure of being hugged.
  3. There being no explanation for that phenomena in present contexts.


In order to gain a body memory, according to the theory, one simply needs to go through a traumatic experience and the body may store this memory in any place in the body that participated in the event - such as the arm, if it got burnt.

Some believe that a Body memory can even be from a past life and can have a physical manifestation, such as skin blistering[2]


Body memory is sometimes cited as evidence for sexual abuse. If this is the only evidence that person has, it may be because, at the time the abuse is claimed to have occurred, normal memory formation was not possible - such as if the victim was unconscious, or was a baby, or was in shock. Body memory does not need to preclude actual memory - and ongoing disabilities after a known trauma can sometimes be seen as body memory. The theory that bad experiences get imprinted could be seen as similar to the beliefs of Scientology.

For those who believe in repressed memory, body memory often forms part of the package of evidence. If a sexual abuse survivor, when recounting a story, suddenly finds breathing difficult, under body memory theory, this is the body remembering a moment in the abuse when breathing was difficult. In this way, a person who suffered past traumas continues to link present day ailments to the past trauma, often regardless of the time past since the event. There is seen to be no particular time limit or quantity limit to body memories.

The Courage to Heal, a book that encourages Repressed Memory Therapy, has the slogan "The body remembers what the mind forgets."[3]


One explanation is that the trauma is stored within the body's 'energy fields,'[4] which is a pseudoscientific explanation.

Body memory could be an ad-hoc explanation for normal body reactions. It may be a way of disassociating responsibility for a personal condition.

In regards to Disassociating, a person may feel too traumatised to accept comfort so they disassociate physically from feeling the physical touch of comfort but are able to physically feel the comfort days later when they are safe and there is a trigger to bring back the body's memory.

Few studies have been done on the subject.

Clinician Use

Clinicians often use the term body memory to refer to implicit memories - memories that are encoded in the unconscious and are unavailable to the conscious mind but which can be evident in emotions and in the senses. (Explicit memories are those which are available to the conscious mind; most contend it is not mature until after age three.) Implicit memories might be encoded when an experience occurs before age three, or when an experience is too traumatic for the conscious memory to hold on its own.


The theory of body memory is not supported by what is currently known as to how memory works and what non-brain organs are capable of doing.

See also

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